A mustard seed? Really?

Last week I talked about seeking small graces. Then I read Melissa’s response. And re-read it.

“I have to remember to stop spinning my wheels of doing and practice Being in Christ’s Grace and Love. As I walk through life grounded in God’s Grace, life takes on a spirit of peace and love.” Melissa

It had seemed reasonable, sensible, not asking too much, not being pushy or presumptuous, to be content with small graces. But I began to realize it’s like saying one lettuce leaf and a bite of an apple make a meal. I couldn’t live very well on that diet. light-meal

And my spirit wasn’t created for a miserly grace diet, either.

God held nothing back. He entered our world (that’s what the incarnation is all about), interacted and sacrificed for us so he could lavish his grace on us, his favor, all that we can never earn.

And with the death and resurrection of Jesus, all of the things that we do that negate life have been transformed. He has breathed new life into us.

Inhale.

It is a relief that I don’t have to try harder,

Or stay content among the rocks.

Last weekend I heard a great sermon about the story Jesus told his disciples when they asked him to give them more faith. He said if they had faith the size of a mustard seed they could move mountains.

A mustard seed? Really?

mustard-see
mustard seed with a dime

When the disciples had Jesus off to themselves, they asked, “Why couldn’t we throw it out?” “Because you’re not yet taking God seriously,” said Jesus.Matt 17:19-20 MSG

From the sermon, by Rev. Charleston D. Wilson, The Church of the Redeemer (underline mine)

When we face tough decisions and hard challenges in life, we not only have the challenge itself to deal with — the external issue — but we also have the internal — let’s say spiritual — struggle as well.

And that internal, spiritual struggle is rooted in that question we often ask ourselves – the same questions the Apostles were asking internally. Do I really have a quantity of faith — enough spiritual oomph, if you will — to deal with difficult decisions and challenges?

And, I’d like to suggest to you right here and right now that the answer to that question is a resounding, loud and clanging: “no!”

You hear me correctly.
No, even on our best days, we lack enough faith, if we’re measuring it by quantity, to face much of anything – let alone a big decision or challenge.

And this is actually good news. And this is actually freeing news. And getting in touch with this is good and emancipating news, because, meeting the challenges of today and tomorrow, and dealing with life in general, isn’t about a supposed quantity of faith at all.

Being a Christian, a man or woman of faith, is about the object of our faith, Jesus Christ, who is alive, and whose grace is sufficient.

Another way to say it is this: no, we don’t have enough, because He is enough!

When I became a Christian at ten, my grandmother gave me a necklace with a mustard seed inside clear resin. I wore it for years, trying hard to have enough faith to move mountains. After all, the seed was so small, surely I could do that much!

But I didn’t move any mountains. Many of my good intentions went haywire. Then, I spent years dwelling in regret – sure I’d failed the mustard seed test.

And wanting so much to make up for it.

When Jesus began speaking grace to me, personally, I even argued with him!

In a way, I guess I still am.

But the truth that is setting me free is, not only is it not about what I do, it isn’t even how much I believe. It’s not about me.

It’s about WHO I BELIEVE.

Every time I fail or struggle. Every time pain stabs me or someone I care about. Every time darkness seems to be winning here or around the world. Every time I don’t know how to pray — I focus on the one who created the world, created me, and creates new life.

Then the peace comes.

“Unbelievable” –but true.

And totally liberating.

Do you struggle with faith?
Have there been times or events that made faith hard?

Got hope?

What do you do with despair? When the wounds of childhood make trusting hard? When the pain of living steals hope?

When I was in the ninth grade, I wrote this poem.

Poem by Jane F Thompson
Poem by Jane F Thompson

Though I wasn’t aware of it, that ambivalence followed me through life. Until I finally embraced myself (see Fine Wine), my own pain in childhood, I was caught like a starfish on the Oregon coast, clinging to a rock, waiting for the tide to come in.

When I was a sophomore in college, floundering, wondering how to continue to live, I opened a book of T.S. Eliot poems to work on a paper for an English class. Going beyond my assignment, I discovered a division in the book (like between the Old and New Testaments in the Bible), beginning with “Ash Wednesday.” Eliot expressed my thoughts, doubts, hopes, fears and attempts at faith.

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign? . . .
Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still. …

Line after line, Eliot transcribed the agony I experienced in just living. When I reached the last section, I wanted to holler, to cry, to run out under the sky.

Although I do not hope to turn again
Although I do not hope
Although I do not hope to turn
Wavering between the profit and the loss
In this brief transit where the dreams cross
The dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying

Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated
And let my cry come unto Thee.

Somehow, Eliot’s finding peace in spite of identical ambiguity comforted me, gave me hope to go on. I was not alone.

That began my true faith walk, and what a long road it has been!

But then, life is a journey, isn’t it? In spite of the switchbacks and setbacks, push-backs and throwbacks, we drive onward.

Even the Israelites, led by God in the desert escaping Egypt, had to make the trek.

At this point on the way, I no longer pray to love with detachment.  I have no need to be alone to protect my heart. My cries are heard. I’d rather spend my life caring, than freeze alone on the rocks.

I can reach out to the one who experienced my pain, who walked the trail, who knows what it means to love and be hurt, to reach out, yet be be shunned, to cry alone.

We who have run for our very lives to God have every reason to grab the promised hope with both hands and never let go. It’s an unbreakable spiritual lifeline, reaching past all appearances right to the very presence of God where Jesus, running on ahead of us, has taken up his permanent post as high priest for us, in the order of Melchizedek. Hebrews 6:19-20 The Message (MSG)

And I have hope because my journey is into His arms.

They hit me when I was down,
but God stuck by me.
He stood me up on a wide-open field;
I stood there saved—surprised to be loved!

God made my life complete
when I placed all the pieces before him.
When I got my act together,
he gave me a fresh start.
Now I’m alert to God’s ways;
I don’t take God for granted.
Every day I review the ways he works;
I try not to miss a trick.
I feel put back together,
and I’m watching my step.
God rewrote the text of my life
when I opened the book of my heart to his eyes.
Psalm 18:18-24 The Message  (bold mine)

Where are you on your journey?

Forty days?

This week, many Christians begin observing forty days of Lent. Forty days marked many significant events in the Biblical narrative: Noah floating in the ark, Moses on the mountain with God, the Hebrews scouting the Promised Land, Goliath taunting Saul’s army until David picks up his slingshot, Jesus fasting in the wilderness before he begins his ministry on earth.

And, like Jesus, we are being called to forty days in the desert.

© Jane Foard Thompson
crown of thorns

Rather than Lent, perhaps life itself has called you into the desert. Illness, disability, dementia, losing a dream, job, home, loved one or a relationship . . . the desert places are open to all of us.

© Jane Foard Thompson
succulent in desert

And whether we come out on the other side at all, or haggard and bitter, or lean and ready to really live, depends on how we respond in our desert time.

© Jane Foard Thompson
In silence of the desert

In truth, we don’t want the desert. In our culture, pain is an enemy to be avoided at all costs, from the ever-present ibuprofen bottle, to drug or alcohol abuse, and even assisted suicide. Others of us are running ahead, doing the right things, working very hard to keep it all together.

However, in The Healing Path, Dan Allender says,

“God promises us redemption, but his sacred path leads us away from safety, predictability, and comfort. Any attempt to fly over the dangerous terrain or make a detour to safe ground is doomed because it will not take us to God. Instead, it leads to a host of other idols that can’t provide us with the confidence of faith, the dynamic of hope, or the passion of love we so deeply crave.”

The Healing Path

Only in the desert, we become the people we were created to be, living the life we were meant to live.

“It is in the poverty of the desert that we see clearly our attachments to the trinkets and baubles we cling to for security and pleasure. The desert shatters the soul’s arrogance and leaves body and soul crying out in thirst and hunger. In the desert, we trust God or we die.”

The Healing Path

Trust God or die.

When Eve didn’t trust God, and ate the fruit instead, she died to all her life could have been in the garden, including evening walks with God.

God sent Adam and Eve out of the garden, into the desert were they would learn how much they needed him.

And every time we chose our own way, in place of God’s pathway, we eat that fruit again.

© Jane Foard Thompson
thorny desert plant

“The healing path must pass through the desert or else our healing will be the product of our own will and wisdom.”

The Healing Path

So, where are you heading for your forty days?

Recommendations for study: The Healing Path, Dan B Allender, Ph.D., WaterBrook Press, 2002
YouVersion Lenten studies
My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers, Barbour and Company, Inc., original copyright 1935